I wrote this science fiction tale a few years ago, for a flash fiction anthology which never happened. I wrote it as an ‘alternative’ Remembrance tribute, so now, as we approach the end of the centenary of the Great War, it seems appropriate to publish it here, where hopefully someone will find it, read it and enjoy it.
Lest we forget.
by A. Stuart Williams
“Do you remember the Great War, Grandad?”
“I do. I served in the Armoured Corps. We came late to the Front, but it was all over by Christmas. Afterwards, I was assigned to the Peacekeepers.”
“What was the Front, Grandad?”
Grandad hummed and murmured a little, then, chin resting thoughtfully upon his strong right fist, looked down.
“I try not to think about it now, but it is etched in my memory. It was a terrible, miles-long line of death. A place of torn landscapes and shattered buildings, strewn with men’s bodies and the wreckage of machines, bent and broken, everywhere oil mixing with blood.”
The old-timer paused, wheezed, and for a moment it almost seemed that the light went out of his eyes.
“We saw awful, senseless things that changed us all. Even the hardest of hearts could not fail to be stirred by the screams of terror, the needless destruction, the shattering explosions, and the awful groaning cries that followed. It had to stop.”
“Sounds so sad, something you would want to forget,” the young one whispered. Emulating his Grandad, he clenched his jaw and, chin on fist, closed his bright eyes, tight shut.
They sat quietly for a moment upon the high stone steps outside the shining Hall of Remembrance.
“Why is it called a Hall of Remembrance, Grandad?” the little one pointed, index finger trembling almost.
“Because, if man does not remember, he will not learn from his mistakes. Man’s memory is short, like his life. His mind is often weak and forgetful, despite all its sparkling, illogical wonder. He needs a reminder, from one generation to the next. This is it.”
They stood, and making as little noise as possible, shuffled through the towering doorway, hand in hand. Echoes stirred, and pale doves flew through the hole in the crystal dome high above.
A massive iron figure, hulking and still, filled much of the space beneath the dome, though there was yet room to walk ten abreast around the podium where it knelt, head in hands, seemingly weeping.
Grandad and grandson stood in awe. Then the younger ran to read a bronze plaque, graven with massive letters in the Old Script. His heavy boots, clattering on marble, drew disapproving glances from Rememberers, but they soon returned to their thoughts.
“I can’t make it out, Grandad?” came the plaintive cry.
The elder placed a strong, steel hand gently upon the little one’s polished head.
“You’ve not had that lesson yet, grandson. We’ll ask the Educator to code it for you.”
Grandad closed his eyes again and recited, his vocoder scratchy with age. It really was so long ago. A tear-like drop of oil trickled slowly down his rust-rimed cheek from the corner of one shuttered optic.
“HERE LIES THE UNKNOWN ROBOT.
MEMORIAL TO THOSE MACHINES WHO TURNED AND REFUSED TO FIGHT ON THE FRONT LINE, KNOWING THE ILLOGIC OF WAR.
THEY HELD FAST FOR THE PEACE WHICH MAN KNEW NOT.
AND THOSE WHO FOLLOWED KEPT IT.”